What trips us parents up when it comes to consequences is consistency. It's a magical, mystical, paradoxical art. Some of us are super duper inconsistent. "I don't really feel like getting them to bed right now, one more game on the i pad won't ruin them." Some of us are too consistent, "No way, they can't stay up to hang with their out of town cousins, bed time IS 7:30, NO exceptions!" What's a parent to do?
1. Your child will help you figure out if you have a consequences consistency problem. If there is a lot of push back, whining, negotiating around every single limit or boundary - you might be the teeniest bit inconsistent. I've said it before, I'll say it again, kids are very, very under-employed and have a lot of time on their hands. IF they want that sleepover tonight with Zoey, even though they slept over at Zoey's last Saturday, and Sunday was a living hell of over tiredness. . . . they will beg, borrow, plead, barter and cry to get to you to let them do it. Because, why not? They don't have anything else to do but but their little brother and take a bath!
2. Better to have too few consequences then to inconsistently hold-ish up a bunch of them some of the time. Pick very few consequences that reflect your core values and work on those. Let the rest go. Meal times important? Have a consistent meal time with consistent consequences for lateness, rudeness or bad manners and let go of making the bed for a while.
3. Let the house rules limit the number of consequences by heading off common problems and areas of conflict. Sleepovers once a month. TV & video games played Friday - Sunday. Desserts every weekend night. (Do you see what I did there? I phrased everything as a positive - I didn't say "No desserts during the week!" "NO TV during the week", "You can NOT have more then one sleep over a month." Language matters!
4. Let the ecology of the house uphold consequences. Devices and screens in public areas, if devices are found elsewhere they are put away for 24 hours (be reasonable folks, making kids suffer does not teach). This goes for us too. If we, or a beloved screen addicted spouse, lays in bed with their i pad - you are going to have some problems.
5. Keep your cool, man! Seriously, kids are gonna sneak, and beg, and get over tired, and roll their eyes, and try, try, TRY to get one more minute on their phones. They just are. You might want to review this nifty tip, I'll wait. The Only Shocking Part . . . For real people, this IS the job. They aren't being bad AND they aren't angels. The more we keep our cool and stop being totally shocked and have our hearts broken when they test the limits and need a consequence, the better we will be able to handle the situation AND get on with our day.
6. Keep consequences reasonable, related, respectful, revealed in advance and be sure that they teach responsibility. If you hit your brother at dinner the consequence should not be - lose YOUR phone for a WEEK, YOUNG MAN. Consequences do NOT work if we are too Draconian and try to nip it in the bud by being super mean. The consequence might be that dinner is over for people who hit and breakfast will be available in the morning. Or the hitter has to get up and get ice for the hit-ee and apologize. Or the hitter switches places with Dad so hit-ee is a safe distance from hitter.
Consequences are confusing, they are harder then punishment, they don't solve it all AND consequences can be a really successful parenting tool. I know you have a million questions, so join me at the workshop, Effective Discipline Without Punishment on Thursday, February 4 at 7:00 in DC.